Mayor: Belleville will wait to tear down Meredith Home

News-DemocratSeptember 16, 2013 

— Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert told City Council members Monday the city will wait until May before demolishing the Meredith Home so those interested in the historic building's preservation can find investors and other ways to use the site.

Eckert's announcement was met with applause from meeting attendees and thanks from Rick Ortiz, a businessman who created a Facebook page to "Save the Belleville Meredith Home," and Larry Betz, of the Belleville Historical Society. Both have asked the city for more time to find ways to save the building.

Eckert said he spoke with Belleville attorney Bruce Cook, who is willing to hold off on plans to build a memorial park there for his daughter.

But the mayor said Cook will want his $500,000 donation back if the city does not end up developing the Meredith Home into a park.

Cook's daughter, Susannah Marison, died at age 36 in 2010 from a brain tumor.

The city bought the Meredith Home from the Belleville Diocese for $471,000 after a buyer expressed interest in purchasing the building to use it as a home for troubled boys.

Soon after the city's purchase, Cook said he would give the city $500,000 for the building and deed it back to the city. As part of Cook's terms, the building would be demolished and a park would be built and maintained in perpetuity, in honor of Marison.

Eckert said Monday night that if the city can't find valid investors to develop the Meredith Home by next year, then it must come down because "the building can't stand there forever."

Eckert said bids for the demolition project came in higher than budgeted because the city will have to hire an environmental consultant.

The city's 2013-14 budget includes $400,000 from tax increment financing funds to pay for demolition and asbestos removal. Eckert said the city will have to budget this in the next fiscal year in case demolition is needed.

At the last council meeting, Ortiz and several others spoke against demolishing the Meredith Home.

Ortiz has said the city should turn the historical building into a money-maker for the city instead of tearing it down for an urban park. Some residents have suggested a memorial park be built on the roof of the building.

Betz has said an extension would give investors and developers more time to step forward now that the economy is improving.

Betz said the current redevelopment of the old Turner Hall and former YMCA building is a good example.

Swansea businessman Kurt Artinger stepped forward earlier this year to agree to restore Turner Hall to house his company, Replacement Services LLC, with the city's help.

Artinger will spend $500,000 of his own money on the building and the city approved $334,000 to help him.

Reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf contributed information for this story. Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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